Focusing on the competitive labour market, this book scrutinizes the narratives created around immigration and automation. The authors explore how the advances in AI and demands for constant flow of immigrant workers eradicate political and working rights, fuelling fears over job theft and ownership.
Shedding light on the multiple ways in which employment is used as an instrument of neoliberal governance, this revealing book sparks new debate on the role of automation and migration policies. It is an invaluable resource for academics and practitioners working in the areas of immigration and labour, capitalism and social exclusion, and economic models and political governance.
The introduction unpacks the trope of stealing jobs which has become increasingly important in political and public debates and was a key argument in the campaigns leading to Brexit. The chapter introduces key concepts, such as neoliberalism, Homo and xeno Homo Oeconomicus, neoliberalism and precarity, and maps out the relationships between them. Thus, the chapter introduces the main argument of the book – that there is a mutually constitutive relationship between discourses of automation and immigration, which legitimises and entrenches a divisive type of neoliberal governmentality; and the importance of this argument in the context of the pre- and post-Brexit British political economy.
Chapter 2 examines how the competitive labour market constructs a specific reality in which a political and social subject is formulated, developed and transformed. It is within this intersection between the promise of clamping down on low-skilled migration and the structural need for migrant labour that we focus our attention on Homo Oeconomicus and reconceptualise this subjectivity along the lines of race and ethnicity as British Homo Oeconomicus and xeno Homo Oeconomicus. Contrary to recent proclamations of the death of Homo Oeconomicus and of assertions over the power of neoliberalism to eradicate racial discriminations, we focus on the symbiotic relationship between neoliberalism and racism and the former’s ability to adapt and thrive in social and political conditions which might appear as incompatible with its intellectual roots and political and economic objectives.
Chapter 3 deploys the concept of resilience in order to analyse the role inequality plays in the competitive labour market. Focusing on the nationwide campaign Pick for Britain that aimed at recruiting domestic horticultural and farm workers and on the Thank you Amazon Teams campaign praising drivers and warehouse workers, we argue that the good of the nation and the good of the corporation converge in the interpellation of the worker as a subject that needs to respond and adapt to demands for lower immigration and higher productivity while accepting inequality as an inevitability of an economy incapable of reconciling immigration and automation with decent working conditions.
Chapter 4 tells the story of how technological development and automation of work dominated political thinking and policy. It tells the story of technological fear, suspicion and inevitability. The chapter overviews and examines a wide range of policy documents and reports on automation, robotics and technological displacement with a theoretical framework provided by Marx, Polanyi and the operaismo movement. We argue that the competitive relationship between robot workers and human workers framed by the principles of labour cost, efficiency and productivity results in the shift from the integration of workers as a collective in a volatile social and economic environment to a project of self-realisation by establishing links between performance, knowledge and the ability to remain employable in a competitive automated economy.
The chapter explores British political and policy developments spanning from the early 20th century to the current post-Brexit context. In so doing, it outlines three main discourses that define British migration policy: racialisation (1900s–mid-1980s), technocratic pragmatism (mid-1990s–2010), and the current securitised discourse that facilitated Brexit and which continues to drive post-Brexit politics and policy. Thus, the chapter develops the argument that migrant workers could be understood as robots in the sense that they tend to be defined by their economic value and utility while also being denied their humanity. The argument is supported by a wide range of political, policy and empirical evidence, that is, key immigration acts and policies, Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) reports, as well as social policy changes under the Coalition and Conservative governments, that aimed at maximising the economic gains of migration while minimising social expenditure.
This chapter argues that employers in sectors with a high concentration of migrant workers are most likely to continue to rely on such precarious migrant labour, despite pre- and post-Brexit promises for increased investment in automation in labour-intense and migrant-dominated sectors of the economy, such as agriculture. Empirically, the argument is supported by examining specialist reports, political and media statements, as well as the Pick for Britain campaign as a case in point because it exemplifies a politically salient friction between the long-standing racialisation of EU migrants and dependency on their labour. By critically engaging with the trope of cheap labour we show how it co-exists within a discursive reality where the insufficient deployment of automation technology in the agricultural sector clashes with the significant reliance on precarious and exploitative migrant labour, which is progressively dehumanised by post-Brexit migration policies.
The chapter argues that while neither labour automation nor labour migration jeopardise employment opportunities as such, perceptions about stealing jobs persist because they are embedded within ideologically driven political rhetoric and policy choices, but also because both automation and migration policies tend to be discussed in similar ways. The chapter critically compares the nostalgic approach of state interventionism and of homogenous traditional communities with futuristic and optimistic notions of communities that are no longer exclusively defined by (waged) work. Thus, this final chapter examines some political and theoretical alternatives to neoliberalism, such as Universal Basic Income (UBI).